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West Virginia’s greyhound breeders fund on the chopping block


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — Delegate Erikka Storch said she and legislative colleagues will work to send a bill that would eliminate the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund “to a fiery death” in the House.

Senate Bill 437 passed the state Senate Monday by a vote of 19-15 despite opposition by all four members from the Northern Panhandle. Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio; and Sens. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke; Mike Maroney, R-Marshall; and Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, all voted “no.”

The measure, if it becomes law, would discontinue the West Virginia Racing Commission’s special account known as the West Virginia Greyhound Breeding Development Fund. The fund is set to pay out an estimated $15 million to dog breeders this year.

Money that goes into the account is paid by the tracks that have dog racing, and is based on a percentage of video lottery revenue generated at the tracks.

Under the legislation, the money instead would be redirected into the state’s general revenue fund for redistribution by the Legislature.

There are two dog tracks in West Virginia — at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, and at the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Cross Lanes, W.Va. A similar fund for horse breeders at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races is not affected by the legislation.

Last year, a measure to eliminate the dog breeders’ fund was shot down in the House. Storch isn’t certain what will happen this year.

“We’re hoping we can send it to a fiery death in the House,” she said.

Storch estimates there are about eight delegates in the 100-member House who are staunchly opposed to any type of gambling. Others, she said, may be under the impression the money paid out to dog breeders is a “subsidy” to the dog breeders by the state’s taxpayers.

“That’s a misnomer,” Storch said. “The money the dog breeders get is a percentage of the money placed on casino bets at the tracks. That was never our money, and the state has had no business collecting it.”

Payments to the breeders’ funds could have been arranged without involving the state, according to Storch. The breeders, however, had expressed mistrust in one specific former horse breeder, and wanted the state to collect and distribute the dollars.

“We had no business being in the process,” she said.

Lawmakers are using job figures provided through a Legislature-commissioned study by the Spectrum Gaming Group in 2014 that indicates about 1,700 people are employed in the dog racing industry in West Virginia, with 1,170 of them affiliated with the Wheeling track. But greyhound racing opponent Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA, sets that figure at closer to 650.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, called SB 437 the Legislature’s “first jobs bill” of the current session.

“Unfortunately, it is to kill jobs, not create them,” he said. “It makes zero economic sense to make us less competitive and take away a source of revenue during a budget crisis. It is fiscally irresponsible and I will do all I can to keep it from passing in the House.”

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